Disclaimer: I am not a patent attorney so I am just providing my view of intellectual property. The idea is to help those engineers (and others) to be aware of some frequently unknown aspects about patents. The laws in relation to patents generally require attorney’s to administer the process. It could all be done without attorneys but the process has attorneys built-in. So please consider this material as “thought material.”


Intellectual Property: The Value and The Risk
What Is Your Patent Strategy!


IP

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IP, You Need A Good Understanding

Your perspective, philosophy regarding Intellectual Property can substantially influence your bottom line. In addition, if poorly managed can bankrupt a company. On the positive side, if appropriately administered can provide tremendous value. The vast majority of patents will never be challenged even though they could be found to be invalid. Patents tend to scare those who are watching the “purse strings” and in fact most companies cannot afford the time and cost to litigate. It is easier to find a way around the patent. Yet, sometimes there is no choice because the entire business is at stake.

Patent Protection

You spend money to develop new products and it could lead to a patent and/or copyright and/or a trademark, but in some way, you would like some legal protection. Now, whenever someone talks in terms of the legal system it is essential to say, “I am not, a lawyer.” Then you say you cannot give legal advice. Fortunately, many non-lawyers (like me) simplify some of the complexity of patent law. I do this to help engineers and various executives to have productive discussions in potential IP situations. However, at some “early” point we must consult the legal department. Ok, that is my disclaimer stated somewhat differently from above and of course in fine print!

My First Understanding

I have worked with many patent attorneys over my career and in some cases speaking with them daily for months at a time. I have also given depositions regarding some very substantial lawsuits. It is difficult to avoid legalities if you are developing, manufacturing, or providing services so you might as well have a good understanding of the legal system as relates especially to your category of products. This is particularly important if you are managing engineers, scientists. Our focus here is patents or IP (Intellectual Property). I strongly believe that in this area every person who might be involved with “invention” should understand the basics. Your patent group in a large company will of course manage the effort in obtaining a patent. They are typically experts in your general technology and can quickly provide guidance. However, if you have a strong IP understanding there are design variations that you may want to include or more often exclude. Therefore, a basic understanding of claims can make a big difference in the success of your idea. Legal zoom is an interesting tool that individuals or small companies can use to begin the legal process and for instance obtain a provisional patent thus “establishing” your rights. In this regard, www.legal zoom.com helps you with minimal expense to obtain provisional patents, utility patents, design patents, patent searches, and patent drawings.
My first rule for patents is that no patent is truly valid until tested by the courts. That is, when someone takes you to court or vice-versa. Of course, that may never happen, but in reality all the processes to that point may be good but when both parties or all interested sides dig very, very deep you finally get everything out on the table. So, we have two parties with a lot invested (perhaps both producing products involved in the litigation) and on both sides before any litigation the lawyers are saying everything is fine. Behind such a problem is the fact that patent searches are not perfect and it is impossible to understand things like the entire world history of prior art.

All Engineers and Executives Need to Understand This

Many, perhaps most patents can be circumvented by a clever design change unless they are very broad. Yes, a good broad patent is worth its weight in gold – actually a lot more than its weight. Much more on this important subject will follow at this site.

Patents Are Very Costly

Now when we talk about small businesses it is very difficult for them to play in the patent game. That is, it is extremely expensive and the cost of the patent may be the least expensive part. Although with modifications and several office actions prior to receiving the patent, it can also be very expensive. If you decide to seek patents in other countries, the additional costs and time can be considerable. If you would at some point try to litigate, against another party it takes a very long time and a lot of money (many, many times the cost of the original patent). There are also hidden costs beyond the salaries of the legal staff, such as the lost time by employees involved in developing the patent or subsequently in the litigation process. A mid-size size company with a moderate number of patents, copyrights and trademarks has routine number of payments to keep those patents active. Frequently, these renewals are “rubber stamped” when in reality they should not be! I have experienced some of the wonder of IP involving other countries and nothing is as exciting as China’s utility patents.

Patents frighten due to complexity, rules

You might say, “our legal department handles that” but so much can be done if other parts of the business are making good decisions such as valuing the patent – this is a separate and important discussion. Such “good decisions” allow the legal department to better control costs and really protect the company in a more effective manner, while working on the most important issues.
A reasonable conclusion is that you cannot live without patents and you cannot live with them
There are solutions for small business and even for moderate to large businesses where you can effectively utilize the patent process, while not “breaking the bank or budget.” In some cases, you can protect your right to make a product without obtaining a patent. Many companies simply do a public disclosure of a concept or a design and although they can no longer be protected for that idea others can no longer seek IP due to this disclosure.

Patent Programs

I have led in developing patent programs at three different companies and these programs properly administered can be a substantial help in the innovation, breakthrough process. They can have just the opposite effect if done poorly. A process where the company and employee benefit proportionally for valuable patents is one essential element of a good program.

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